Back from my short break, and as you can imagine, my first stop was my bees. I was very pleased to see that they had all been busy attacking the syrup I’d left them. In preparation I had made up several gallons before leaving home so I was able to give them all an immediate top up. I was particularly pleased with the state of the nuc’s., especially the two latest aquisitions, now nick-named The bird table nuc. and The hollow tree nuc. They had all emptied the frame feeders that I’d left them and each had at least one full frame of stores as well as a considerable amount of brood each.

It is my intention to over-winter the bees in their nuc’s. and I have decided to strap them together in pairs, one pair at each site. The thinking behind this is based on past experience which showed that my bees over-wintered much better when left in mating nuc’s where they could cluster either side of the partition than those in the free standing nuc’s. Also, configured in this way, they can sit under a standard hive roof which holds them together very securely. They always seem a little vulnerable standing alone, especially with the gale force winds we get around here most Winters. The one problem with strapping the nuc’s. together in pairs is that they are currently quite some distance apart and bringing them together a couple of feet at a time is going to be a task, not to mention the time it will waste. I have decided to overcome this by taking one of each pair to the other’s apiary. This way I can place each nuc. on arrival, alongside it’s new pairing and get on with the rest of my Winter preparations.

A couple of weeks have passed since I last reported on the blog which as far as the bees have been concerned have consisted mainly of feed, more feed followed by even more feed. It’s so easy to miss-read the signs at this time of year, especially if your bees have access to Ivy. Hefting the hive suggests that there is plenty of stores within, which is, as often as not, true. What it doesn’t tell you is that within a very short time, what stores there is will very soon have set solid so rendering it of very little use to your bees. Probably down to the warm weather we’ve seen recently, there has been no let up in the rate of brood production. This may bode well for the Spring but can give rise to a shortage of available comb space for stores which could present a problem going into Winter. As one would expect, the colonies on extended brood don’t appear to suffer this problem. It is the couple of hives still on single brood, to which I have added a super of drawn comb.

My plans regarding the nuc’s. have gone somewhat awry with another of my “bought -in” queens which was in the second nuc. at “C”, giving up the ghost. Her sister, by comparison, has gone from strength to strength to the point where her nuc. was in danger of exploding, such was the volume of brood and stores. They are now in the vacant hive where thankfully, they seem to have settled in very well. I took the decision to bring the meadow nuc’s., that is The Bird-table and The Hollow-tree nuc’s. back to Mendip “C” where they’ll be closer to home meaning that, if we do have a harsh Winter, they’ll all be easier for me to visit.

Last Saturday we hosted this year’s last Apiary meeting, and for the first time, at Mendip “C”. The bees behaved impeccably, it was well attended and for the most part, the sun shone. Our guest for the occasion was Mr. John Smythe who spoke for the best part of two hours on the subject of “Preparation for Winter”.  I have to say, and I’m sure I speak for all who were there, I can’t recall a couple of hours passing more enjoyably for a long time. There are probably several reasons for attending these Apiary meetings but for me there are two which stand out, firstly, the social aspect. It’s an opportunity to renew old acquaintances and to forge new ones and in doing so, strengthen the Society. Whilst I don’t always agree with all that I hear, I never leave without having learnt something new or having heard some new idea which gets me thinking along different lines. One such idea at this meeting came from John and was on the subject of Chalk Brood and it’s containment and I’d like to share it with you. It was this: at the first signs, give affected colonies a sprinkle of salt on the top bars of the brood frames once a week for three weeks. Now, I don’t know about you, but this was a new one on me. It seems such a simple solution, I can’t imagine why I haven’t heard about it before, but, I shall certainly give it a try

With the end of the month now firmly in sight, things have progressed in a very promising manner. With the Winter feeding now completed and the Apiguard well under way, time to reflect on another season about to end, and the promise of the next. No matter how poor a season might have been, the thoughts of the next always leaves me with a feeling of excitement. I suppose the most basic requirement of all us beekeepers has to be optimism, doesn’t it!  Whenever things here seem to be veering off course, the phrase that Del used to trot out to Rodney in “Only Fools and Horses” comes to mind. When things weren’t going to plan, he’d always trot out the same line, ”This time next year Rodders”. Now, I don’t expect any one of us to ever become millionaires, well, certainly not as a result of keeping bees. I am sure however, that having a plan and a belief that you can make it happen, certainly helps when things go a bit “belly up”, and we all know, they will from time to time. All I can say is that, we here at Mendip, have had our fair share of ups and downs over time, but, thankfully, it still works for me.

Looking back, this season, whilst much better than the last, has still not lived up to my expectations. If honey yield is the yardstick by which success is measured, then these last two years have been an absolute disaster. As the season progresses, I, along with most of us, love to behold, supers filling to overflowing, and to see at the end of it, glistening honey jars, filled with liquid gold, stretching as far as the eye can see. I’m sure that to be able to achieve this, year on year is what separates the experts from the rest of us. Yes, it is disappointing when the season closes leaving little to show for all of that effort,  but to my way of thinking, there has to be more than just honey to beekeeping. I can only speak for myself, but ever since I got my first hive, my main interest has always focussed on successful queen rearing. It has been my lack of success in that direction over the last couple of seasons which has been far more of a disappointment than any poor honey crop. And of course, the two are inextricably linked, no colony headed by an inferior queen can ever be expected to succeed, can it! What constantly puzzles and concerns me is, why are my queens performing so erratically? and it’s not just my home grown queens. I’ve written before of how, following a poor season a couple of years ago, I took the decision to introduce new blood into my stock and how I purchased a number of new queens from, it has to be said, a very highly respected supplier. Not just because of the financial outlay, but because I had such high hopes for these bees, they were treated like gold dust. I lost one through my own stupidity, but the others were housed in nuc’s. until occupying all five frames whereupon they were transferred into hives. We try to place close attention to hygiene and for that reason, whenever and for whatever reason, a hive becomes vacant, it is scorched clean and receives a fresh coat of Cuprinol before being pressed back into service, also, as an added precaution, only frames with clean, fresh looking comb are re-used. What I’m trying to say, is that I had no doubt that the new nuc’s. were being transferred into disease free hives and as expected, they immediately took off. All three colonies began expanding rapidly, evident by the increasing activity, at each hive entrance, very noticeable with each visit. This along with the vast amounts of pollen being collected indicated that my new queens were indeed living up to my expectations. Each inspection revealed increasing amounts of brood with the marked queens easy to see. They had each developed well shaped abdomens and moved sedately over the comb. All classic signs of quality so, imagine my surprise and disappointment when, after no more than a few weeks, two of the colonies decided, for no apparent reason, to supersede.

The upshot of all this is that whilst one of the colonies which superseded has gone from strength to strength the other, as I reported earlier, failed. Thankfully, the third queen, after a slow start, is now heading a very strong colony. Both the Bird-table and Hollow-tree nuc’s. continue to grow so, at this moment in time, it looks as though we shall go into Winter with nine colonies. We’ve had better years but after the season we’ve just had, nine doesn’t look too bad from where I’m standing.